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Fourth Circuit Holds Supervised Release Revocation Sentence Unreasonable

by Christopher Zoukis

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that a supervised release revocation sentence was plainly unreasonable. The Court concluded that it was not reasonable for a district court to fail to address nonfrivolous arguments advanced by a defendant arguing for a particular revocation sentence. The Court also held that a district court must sufficiently explain its reasoning when it imposes a statutory maximum sentence, even in the case of a revocation sentence.

Defendant Lacresha Janelle Slappy was serving a five-year term of supervised release for armed bank robbery when she was deemed to be in violation by her probation officer on October 27, 2015. The motion for revocation alleged that Slappy stole a pair of shoes, failed to report for seven urine screens, used marijuana, left the jurisdiction without permission, and absconded from supervision. The district court found her guilty of using marijuana and leaving the jurisdiction without permission.

At sentencing, the parties agreed that the sentencing guidelines recommended a sentence of seven-to-13 months of imprisonment, with a statutory maximum of 36 months. Slappy requested 13 months, while the Government argued for 36 months. Slappy presented evidence of her post-incarceration rehabilitation, which included working and participating in New Hanover’s Scared Straight program, in which she shared her experiences with at-risk youths. On the other hand, the Government recounted her lengthy criminal history, which included several prior state convictions.

The district court sentenced Slappy to 36 months of imprisonment. In doing so, the court did not address any of Slappy’s nonfrivolous arguments; instead, the court provided a short and perfunctory statement that it considered the statutorily required factors in arriving at the sentence.

The Fourth Circuit determined that the lower court engaged in procedurally unreasonable conduct. It held “that a district court, when imposing a revocation sentence, must address the parties’ nonfrivolous arguments in favor of a particular sentence, and if the court rejects those arguments, it must explain why in a detailed-enough manner that this Court can meaningfully consider the procedural reasonableness of the revocation sentence imposed.” According to the Court, the district court did not do so.

“Slappy presented detailed, nonfrivolous evidence of her positive employment history, her efforts at rehabilitation, and her voluntary service to her community, and the sentencing court did not so much as mention her arguments when it imposed the statutory maximum,” the Court wrote. The Fourth Circuit vacated Slappy’s revocation sentence and remanded for resentencing. See: United States v. Slappy, 872 F.3d 202 (4th Cir. 2017). 

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